Pride will be the only thing at stake when the Alchesay Falcons and Payson Longhorns clash at 7 p.m. this evening in Whiteriver.
Although the skirmish is a region game, it’s not drawing much hoopla because neither team is a threat to make the state tournament with their identical 2-6 overall marks and 0-3 East records.
In Whiteriver, where basketball reigns supreme, football is almost an afterthought and few Falcon teams have ever made the state playoffs.
In Payson, however, the Longhorns are coming off an undefeated state championship season and not reaching the playoffs to defend the title is a huge disappointment.
Although the two foes have the same records, and the PHS roster is decimated by injuries, Alchesay might not have the manpower to go toe-to-toe with the Longhorns.
The only two games the Falcons have won were against reservation teams — Window Rock and Monument Valley.
In other games, the Falcons have been saddled with double-digit losses. Show Low whipped Alchesay 62-14 and Round Valley ran roughshod 53-7.
Even Coolidge, a team that is struggling this year like Payson, overpowered the Falcons 50-21.
A huge misfortune the Falcons faced this year was having to play top-ranked and state champion favorite Blue Ridge twice in the early season.
The powerful Yellow Jackets pummeled Alchesay 51-0 and 64-0.
Teams don’t normally play each other twice in the same season, but scheduling difficulties created by the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s new computerized system forced the Yellow Jackets into a pair of games against the Whiteriver school.
The only other choice for BR was a bye and coaches and players said they’d rather not have that.
The Horns enter tonight’s game licking their wounds from last week’s 49-7 loss to Blue Ridge.
To salvage a win over the Falcons, the Longhorns must have short memories — put the loss behind them and focus only on Alchesay.
If that occurs, running backs Landen Johnson, Payson Herring and Nick Johnson could pick up big chunks of yardage against a Falcon defense that has been porous most of the season.
Herring, Payson’s big-play threat, was held in check in the loss to the Yellow Jackets, but against the Falcons could break loose for several long runs.
If coach Matt Mayo goes to the airways, quarterback Jake Sleeper will probably scour the field for his favorite target, Dakota Marshall.
In the loss to Blue Ridge, the pair hooked up for Payson’s only score, a 24-yard strike in the third quarter.
At 6 feet, 5 inches, Marshall will have a decided height advantage over Alchesay defenders and should be an inviting target for Sleeper.
Cameron Geske gives the Horns a second capable receiver as does fullback Nick Johnson coming out of the backfield.
The Longhorns have a good kicker to unleash against Alchesay in Josh Frewin, but he’s not had many field goal or extra point opportunities this season due to Payson’s lack of offense to get into scoring position.
Tonight might present an opportunity for Frewin to unleash his leg.
While Payson vs. Alchesay is considered a ho-hum game around the East Region, all eyes will be focused on Show Low where the Cougars play host to Blue Ridge.
The SLHS stands on both sides of the field will be packed with White Mountain fans eager to see which of the neighboring schools earns bragging rights for the year.
A Blue Ridge win will give the Yellow Jackets the East Region title outright and possibly propel the team to the top of the power point rankings.
However, since 1983 — the year SLHS had its first winning season and won a region title — the annual clash between the Cougars and the Yellow Jackets has been much like the Arizona State vs. Arizona rivalry.
Which means, there is so much emotion, passion and rivalry that anything can happen.